Democrats like what they saw in Harris-Charlamagne tha God exchange

·5 min read


When Vice President Kamala Harris appeared on Comedy Central's "Tha God's Honest Truth" earlier this month, some Democrats were happy to see a glimpse of the former senator who grilled witnesses at Senate Judiciary Committee hearings.

Toward the end of the 20-minute interview, when host Charlamagne tha God asked a controversial question about who the "real president" of the country is - President Biden or Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) - an aide for Harris told him she couldn't hear the question.

A moment later, Harris fired back at the radio personality.

"Come on, Charlamagne," the vice president replied. "It's Joe Biden. And don't start talking like a Republican, about asking whether or not he's president. It's Joe Biden and I'm vice president and my name is Kamala Harris."

The answer was what Democrats had been craving from the vice president in her first year in office - a snap showing of tenacity that rarely appears from the White House.

That's not without reason. Less than a full year in office, Harris has steered through several missteps while being cautious to not get out front of Biden.

Harris has offered a more guarded and scripted version of herself to the public.

"That's the Kamala Harris I know the base has been dying to see," one Democratic strategist who is close to the White House said of the episode with Charlamagne. "If she's indeed the future of the party and a potential president, they shouldn't be stripping her of personality."

Harris's troubles, for now, appear to be on the back burner, at least in the news cycle.

Approaching the new year with another COVID-19 variant to contend with and a domestic spending bill in question, Democrats see a chance to hit the reset button, especially with some changing faces in the vice president's office.

"The vice president has an opportunity to refresh and focus more on substance to help illustrate the type of governing partner she has been and can be for the president," said Democratic strategist Joel Payne.

"That should allow outside validators to vouch for her and help reorient the public to what type of a president she would be if that opportunity were to come to pass in the future," Payne added.

White House officials in recent days have touted Harris's work on the infrastructure package, with aides dubbing her pivotal to ensuring the bill's passage. They told CBS News that the vice president played a key role in pushing environmental issues that have been important to her dating back to her Senate days, including funding for electric school buses and efforts to curtail wildfires and droughts.

"Because she was working on these topics in the Senate, she, at a tactical level, knows where members of our caucus and members of the caucus on the other side of the aisle are," Ali Zaidi, the deputy White House national climate adviser, told the network.

White House chief of staff Ron Klain, an internal advocate for Harris, has also been praising her, often publicly on Twitter.

"I know a thing or two about Vice Presidents," Klain - who served as chief of staff to former Vice President Al Gore and to Biden when he held the job - wrote earlier this month. "And @VP @KamalaHarris is off to a great start as Vice President."

The effort is important since many see Harris as a potential president herself. Biden in December again said he plans to run in 2024 if his health is good. And Harris has repeatedly said she's not thinking about running.

But given the president's age, a Harris candidacy not just in 2028 but in 2024 is always seen as a possibility. And that adds to the importance of improving perceptions about the vice president.

"Voters want the vice president to be competent and provide support for the president," said Tobe Berkovitz, a professor of communications emeritus at Boston University, who served as a political media consultant. "So far, the VP and her staff have failed to demonstrate she is ready to be the commander in chief."

A reset may not be easy.

According to the latest FiveThirtyEight polling average, a large number of voters are not satisfied with how Harris is conducting her role as vice president. As of late December, 47 percent of registered voters said they disapprove of her job in office, compared with just 39 percent who approve.

One Democratic source negatively compared Harris to her predecessors, saying she hasn't owned any particular issue and hasn't put her mark on the office. Former Vice President Mike Pence was seen as the conservative voice in the White House, this source argued, while Biden was heralded as former President Obama's liaison to Capitol Hill when he was vice president.

"What is her offering? What does she do?" said the source, who has had multiple conversations with members of Harris's staff. "What is the thing that Kamala Harris can provide that no one else can? I still think they're struggling with that."

Another person who is familiar with Harris's operation said she could use two sets of senior officials around her: one focusing solely on the vice president - handling her briefings, staffing, and internal and external feedback - and another dealing with strategy such as public relations and issues in the political sphere.

"All the latter stuff gets neglected because everyone senior is pulled into managing her," the source said.

Payne said the interview with Charlamagne tha God was a Rorschach test.

"Some people saw the best of the Vice President and some people saw the challenges in her public branding," he said. "Ultimately, it's up to the VP and her team to turn them into net positives."

But the Democratic strategist added that that's the tone the public should see from Harris going forward.

"It would stop the chatter about whether she's ready for prime time or not," he said.

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